The European Commission has sent a warning letter to the Polish government saying that the country must do more to bring food safety standards relating to meat production in line with current EU regulations if it is to ensure a smooth ascension into the European Union.
Citing serious concerns over controls on animal movement, rendering plants and the testing of cattle for infectious diseases, the EC pointed out that there were still many areas where safety and hygiene were lagging well behind current Euro Zone counterparts.
The report stipulated that a large number of existing Polish food plants were currently unlikely to meet EU hygiene standards before ascension on 1 May 2004. The Polish government has assured EC officials that any plants that have not managed to regulate hygiene standards by that date will be closed.
A number of countries hoping to be accepted into the Euro Zone have also been sent given warning letters by the EC, highlighting specific areas of concern. According to the EC, strong means of communications with candidate countries mean that none of the warning letters will carry any shocks.
A general release about the warning letters from the EC said: "Without immediate and decisive action the countries in question will most likely not be able to fulfil their obligations of membership in those specific areas and their citizens and economic operators will not enjoy the full benefits of EU membership."
The specific warning letter to the Polish authorities said: "Urgent progress is needed in public health, in the upgrading of agri-food establishments. There is a high probability that a significant number of agri-food establishments will not be in compliance with the relevant EU requirements at the date of accession."
According to a Reuters report, only 66 of Poland's 3,300-odd red meat processing plants have been awarded permits to export to the EU so far.
In the meantime any Polish food processing operations that do not receive approval from the EU authorities will only be not be able to export their produce into any EU countries.
So far some 1,500 food processing plants have applied to fulfil the EU criteria, but a further 1,500 companies have given up trying to adapt to the EU standards and will consequently be closed on 1 May 2004.
With specific regards to meat processing facilities, the EU has warned that Poland risks a temporary ban on all meat exports if all the plants in question are not upgraded or closed.
Reuters reported that at present only three of the seven planned border inspection posts will be up and running by Many, while systems for labelling meat are still not up to EU standards.
With regards to general food safety, the EC said that Poland is still very much in the early stages of developing an Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) database - a computer inventory of land and livestock needed to distribute EU direct payments. "There are serious concerns about Poland's preparations to set up its paying agencies and to implement the Integrated Administration and Control System," the report said.
Polish authorities have said that they expect the first phase of the IACS to be ready by the end of January.